By Mackenzie McCoy
On August 26, 2021, the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education (BPPE) convened for an Advisory Committee meeting to discuss agenda items, including SB 118 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) (Chapter 29, Statutes of 2020), a measure designed to improve public safety. Section 4 of the bill added section 66024.5 to the Education Code, which prohibits postsecondary educational institutions from inquiring about a prospective student’s criminal history on an initial application form, or at any time during the admissions process before the institution’s final decision regarding the prospective student’s application for admission. Section 66024.5 applies to all segments of postsecondary education in California and required that institutions implement the necessary changes by the fall term of the 2021–22 academic year. The law contains two exceptions: applications for a professional degree, and applications for law enforcement basic training courses and programs.
The purpose of SB 118 was to allow individuals with a criminal history more economic opportunities post-incarceration so that former offenders can more easily reassimilate into society. This bill is a part of a multi-phase plan that includes a pending bill, SB 731 (Durazo), which would allow arrest record relief to people convicted of a felony (existing law allows this for misdemeanor convictions) and would limit access to criminal records.
At the meeting, the BPPE Advisory Committee discussed what sort of impact an applicant’s criminal background could have on a particular licensing board and adopted the BPPE Staff’s conclusion that there is, “no reliable way to predict which applicants’ criminal history will preclude licensure, and that the number of applicants directly affected by licensure denials may be small.” And thus, a postsecondary institution being forced to remove screening questions about criminal history are a non-issue, and in fact make it harder for people to achieve reassimilation with decent employment. At the Advisory Committee meeting on May 27, 2021, members of the committee expressed concern that the restrictions outlined in SB 118 could lead to students with criminal histories pursuing an education in a field where they would be disqualified from hiring entirely due to their criminal history.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 118 into law on August 6, 2020, and at the time of this writing, SB 731 died in committee or otherwise failed to be enacted during the first year of the 2021–2022 legislative session.